In rare unity display, Likud, Blue and White said to agree to torpedo inquiries

Partners in dysfunctional coalition to shoot down proposal to investigate justice system, call for commission into so-called submarine affair at Wednesday Knesset plenum

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum on August 24, 2020. (Knesset Spokesperson's Office)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum on August 24, 2020. (Knesset Spokesperson's Office)

In a rare moment of agreement between Israel’s main coalition partners, the Likud and Blue and White parties agreed on Tuesday to vote against two investigatory proposals, Hebrew media reported.

The parties will vote together against the measures at the Knesset plenum on Wednesday.

Likud will vote against a proposal to investigate the justice system, and Blue and White will vote against the establishment of a commission on the so-called submarine affair that involves Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Walla news site reported, without citing sources.

The proposal on the submarine affair was put forward by Meretz lawmaker Tamar Zandberg with the backing of the Yesh Atid-Telem party.

The case snared several close associates of Netanyahu, but not the premier himself, on suspicion that they received bribes as part of a massive graft scheme in the multi-billion-shekel state purchase of naval vessels from the German shipbuilder.

The state prosecution told the High Court of Justice on Sunday that it believes there is no justification to open a criminal probe into Netanyahu over his stock trades or the case.

Zandberg’s proposal was meant to embarrass Blue and White, whose leaders last week expressed support for establishing the commission as part of its wrangling with Likud over the passing of a state budget, the central issue in the ongoing coalition crisis.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg attends a party conference in Tel Aviv, January 14, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The second proposal was put forward by Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich. Aimed at Likud, it proposes forming a commission to investigate conflicts of interest in the justice system. Smotrich submitted two similar proposals earlier this year, both of which failed to advance in a Knesset vote.

The right-wing Yamina party is in the opposition and has been steadily gaining strength in polls amid the government’s faltering response to the pandemic.

Smotrich said he was re-submitting the proposal following the release of recordings by Channel 12 in which Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit bashes former state prosecutor Shai Nitzan.

The recordings, released last week, date back to 2015 and 2016, before Mandelblit was attorney general, and years before he indicted Netanyahu on corruption charges.

Their release sparked an uproar from Likud lawmakers, however, who said they indicated malfeasance at the Justice Ministry. Netanyahu and his Likud allies have continuously assailed the ministry to try to discredit the charges against Netanyahu.

Smotrich said that Likud lawmakers had railed against the justice system for years, but had not taken concrete action to make reforms.

“This week they will have another opportunity to start. We’ll see how they vote,” he said.

Smotrich’s first proposal for the measure sparked coalition infighting between Likud and Blue and White.

Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a Knesset plenary session at the Knesset, on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

Under the Netanyahu-Gantz coalition deal, the sides are not supposed to promote contentious legislation without their joint consent.

The two parties formed a unity government after three inconclusive elections earlier this year to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, but the government’s tenure has been marred by constant fighting and dysfunctionality.

Tensions between the sides flared Monday as Blue and White’s leadership said that new elections would be held if a state budget for 2020-2021 was not passed by the end of November.

After days of threatening action if the government fails to pass a budget according to the coalition agreement, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz sharpened his ultimatum, saying unequivocally, “If there is no budget, we’ll go to elections.”

Israel has limped through 2020 without a state budget, even though the coalition agreement signed by Blue and White and Likud in April provided for a two-year 2020-21 budget to be passed in the summer.

Blue and White has already reportedly warned that should the dysfunction in the coalition continue and a state budget for 2021 fail to advance in the Knesset by the end of November, it will “act as an opposition” within the government.

The prime minister is currently on trial for fraud and breach of trust in three other cases, and bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing and claims to be a victim of an attempted political coup involving the police, state prosecutors under Mandelblit’s authority, left-wing opposition, and the media.

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